The world of sports recently celebrated the centennial of the the debut of FC Barcelona’s legend, the Filipino-Spanish Paulino Riestra Alcantara. He was the first Filipino and Asian player to play for a European club and was hailed by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) as “the best Asian player of all time” in 2007.
Alcantara was born on 07 October 1897 to a Spanish military officer and an Ilongga mother in Concepcion, Iloilo, Philippines. He moved to Barcelona with his parents in 1905, when he was 8 years old. The budding football star made his debut for the Barcelona youth team in February 1912 at the age of 15 and remains the youngest player to score for the club. He also scored 357 goals in 357 matches, making him the club’s highest goal scorer (counting goals scored in both official and exhibition games). A legendary striker, he ripped the goal net in a game against France and earned the nicknames “El Rompe Redes”, “Trencaxarxes” or “The Net Breaker.”
Paulino’s football career was punctuated when his family returned to the Philippines in 1916. In 1917, Alcantara contracted malaria and refused to take his medicine, until his parents agreed to send him back to Spain. Football remained a big part of his young life — Alcantara continued to play, representing the Bohemian Sporting Club, the Philippines and Spain in local and international competitions.
In 1927, Alcantara retired as a player to become a physician. He later served as club director for FC Barcelona. As one of the early footballers to write memoirs of his playing days, Alcantara left a proud legacy. He died in Barcelona, Spain on 13 February 1964 at age 67. A life-size statue of Alcantara was unveiled at the Philippine Football Federation office at the PhilSports Complex in Pasig during the football centennial commemoration in 2007.
Paulino’s 1916 trip home
This week, Manila-based genealogist Mona Magno-Veluz uncovered the travel document the 18-year old Paulino Alcantara used in April 1916. The document states that he was born in Concepcion, Iloilo (erroneously marked Luzon). It confirms that he left the Philippines when he was 8 years old, contrary to the varying accounts.
The accompanying photograph shows a somber-faced boy of medium build and of, as the document states, a height of 5 feet 6 inches — making his prowess and achievements in the European league even more remarkable. This new discovery documents Alcantara’s departure from Barcelona to Manila, to rejoin (some say, begrudgingly) his family in the islands, where he was to begin his education in medicine.
Paulino Alcantara was the son of a Spanish military officer, Eduardo Alcantara and Spanish-Ilongga mestiza, Victoriana Camilan Riestra. His mother was born in Iloilo on 25 February 1859. His maternal grandfather was a citizen of Spain, according to his mother’s passport application dated December 1915. She passed away in Spain in May 1926. Her obituary listed her as a widow with seven children: Eduardo, Diego, Fernando, Maria, Victoria, Josefa and Paulino.
After the family left Spain in 1916 to return to the Philippines, some of Paulino’s siblings decided to settle in the islands. Paulino’s brother, Fernando, was born in Manila on 23 March 1896. He married Vicenta Rodriguez in Manila and passed away in San Juan, Rizal in 1957. Paulino’s possibly unmarried sister, Maria de la Paz, was born in Manila in June 1869. She passed away in Makati on 07 August 1956, at the age of 67.
View Paulino Alcantara’s family tree here.
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